Canberra – A Day of Reminiscing

We spent our first day in Canberra visiting some places that have been significant to our family.

In the morning, we drove over to the city of Queanbeyan, just across the ACT border into NSW. It was here that Jill’s grandfather was the Inspector of Police before he retired. He had originally lived in the police house next to the courthouse but had bought his own property in Isabella Street  when he retired. The old police house is now a museum. Jill and her mother use to visit during their holidays. 

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The house in which they retired was next to the local school and was demolished some years ago. On the last time we were in town it was still a vacant block but now it is part of the school grounds and has a classroom on it.

Just at the end of the street is an old suspension bridge that crosses the Molonglo River, where Jill used to play during her visits to her grandparents. It is still used and during the time we were looking at it, many people crossed over it on their way to the shops in the main part of town.

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From Queanbeyan, we drove back across to Canberra to visit St John’s Church on Canberra Avenue. This is an historic church and much like the churches we have seen in England, it has its own graveyard. The church interior  is adorned wit many memorials, as are historic English churches. Nearly all of the graves and memorials are those of early pioneers of the district. The only way that anyone can now be buried in the churchyard is to be cremated and have their ashes interred in a relatives grave. There some new memorial walls where cremated remains can  also be placed with a plaque affixed as a memorial.

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Jill’s grandparents are buried in the churchyard next to their son (Jill’s Uncle) who died in a drowning accident when he was 21 years old. Their graves are sitting on more of an angle as the years go by because of the the roots from a giant cypress tree that is pushing up their headstone.

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Anzac Avenue is a broad avenue that runs in a line between the War Memorial and Parliament House. It was so designed by Walter Burley Griffen (a Chicago Architect) who won the prize to design Canberra when it was first nominated as the capital city of Australia in the early 1900’s. His design included an equilateral triangle that extends from Parliament, at the apex, with a line (Commonwealth Avenue) travelling to  the city centre and Kings Avenue on the other side of the triangle, making another line to the government buildings in the third corner. Splitting the middle of this triangle is Anzac Avenue that ensures that politicians look straight out to the Memorial and remember the price of freedom that we have in this country.

Along both sides of Anzac Avenue are a number of memorials that pay tribute to various forms of Australian military engagement. Some places are still set aside for future memorials. Just outside St John’s Church is a new memorial that I hadn’t seen before. It is to those who served in the Boer War in South Africa between 1899 and 1902. It shows four horsemen on patrol and is a wonderful sculpture and incredibly life like. I stood up close and looked right into the eyes of these servicemen and could see their determination and feel their emotions.

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The horsemen from this war are the forerunners of the Australian Light Horse Regiment that was famously engaged in many actions in later conflicts. In WW1, the Australian Light Horse successfully conducted the world’s last mass cavalry charge when they overran enemy positions at Beersheba in Palestine. In later conflicts, they were, of course, mechanised and are now part of the Australian Armoured Regiment.

I walked up Anzac Avenue with Audrey, explaining the reason for the various memorials and why they were important. We passed the Vietnam Memorial for which I remember attending the opening and dedication ceremony and then marching down Anzac Avenue with my old unit. 

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Most of the major facilities in Canberra have a restaurant as does the National War Memorial. We found a couple of parking places in the new underground car park and enjoyed a nice lunch in Poppy’s cafe. After that we stopped at the Hall of Memories and the Pool of Reflection as a necessary visit to the main memorial section of the Memorial. In the colonnade above, every Australian who died in war is remembered with their name recorded on the bronze plaques along the side walls.

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Inside the memorial are many displays that record our nation’s history at war. The WW1 section has recently been renovated with many excellent audio visual displays that now accompany the traditional museum exhibits. In one area, the kids could dress up in uniforms similar to those worn at various periods of conflict. Violet chose a WW1 nurses uniform and Audrey dressed up as a soldier from our current operations in Afghanistan.

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We could have spent many days looking at everything in the Memorial but too much time would have made the girls very bored, so instead we headed to the post WW2 section just to look at the exhibits from the Vietnam War that related to my experience in the army.  We looked around with me explaining how the war was fought and with Audrey and Violet asking questions like ‘What sort of gun did you have?’ and ‘which uniform did you wear?’.

We spent the last part of our time in the Research Section of the Memorial where I was able to show them the diary that I kept in Vietnam. During a previous reunion in Canberra, one of the historians was lamenting the fact that the Memorial had too few first hand memories of the Vietnam War. I still had my diary and the letters that I had written home to Mum, so I donated them to the memorial for their records.

We were able to access them and the girls were fascinated to be to handle them and to read some parts of them. The girls asked me to tell them what i was doing on the same day 49 years ago and my diary told me that on January 17, 1970, I was tasked to the  Pelican Helicopter Pad to fill  and deliver 250 gallon bladders of water to be flown out the to the troops on operations in the  field as their water supply. After that, I had to take my truck into the workshop and fix a number of issues that were due in the service schedule.

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We finished the day with the girls having a swim back at the motel and then driving down to Canberra’s suburb of Manuka where we found a Thai restaurant for dinner.

3 comments

  1. Jan Collins · ·

    Bruce, this is such a moving description of your day in Canberra with the girls, thank you for sharing it with us.

  2. Wonderful memory makers for the girls as they learn the family history. Love the red shoes Jill 🙂

  3. Donald Swain · ·

    Wonderful for you AND the girls. So glad they saw the War Memorial and that you managed to fit so much in. We were in Canberra early 1927 and enjoyed a wonderful 5 days. Happy to go back , thanks for the memory.